“Lives Worthy of Our Calling”
April 3, 2016
Our lives can reflect the uniqueness of our calling.
I. Lives worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1)
II. Lives of Christ-like character (Ephesians 4:2)
III. Lives of Spirit-led unity (Ephesians 4:3-6)
The lights flash and then dim. A hush falls. There is a pause. Then the curtain opens on the production you and your friends have long waited to see. Act 1 of this drama, focuses around an artist, a creator, who out of nothing builds and sets in motion the most magnificent works of art ever. The act begins triumphantly as the darkness of the stage is transformed to color and light, motion and beauty, beloved by all, into whom he also pours his love. But the act ends in tragedy as the works of the artist are spurned, those he is closest to reject him, they soil and despoil what he has made, and then they live in rebellion.
Act 2 focuses on the artist’s attempt to win back those he has loved. Every effort is made, incredible care is displayed toward these filthy rebels. The artist sends emissary after emissary to invite them back to enjoy the beauty of his works. But with venom and violence they reject every initiative. Finally, the artist determines to send his own son to woo them back. Surely they will not reject him? They will see in him and in his works the beauty of the creator. But they do reject him, reject even the possibility of beauty and harmony, and at the climax they put the Son to death, their greatest work of ugliness. You and your friends are in tears, convinced the act, the whole play, must be over. But it’s not. The son does not remain dead, but rises like a flower amidst the rubble and offers again beauty for ashes. Only then does the curtain fall on Act 2.
The creator was the lead character in Act 1, and the son in Act 2. You wonder who will star in Act 3? To your astonishment you find that crucial roles will be played by you and your friends. The Spirit comes out to the audience during the intermission, and asks for volunteers to take the roles of those who have responded to him. Scripts are hurriedly passed. Before long you find yourself at stage left, the act starting, the responsibility for the next line - yours. You’re terrified, but before you enter, the Artist and His Son reassure you and their Spirit empowers you. “Break a leg,” the Son whispers as you step on stage.
Unfortunately, as the play goes on you notice that one of the other actors seems to be blowing his lines, not playing the part he has been given. Leaning over you hiss in his ear “C’mon, read the script” He whispers back “I am - it’s you who’re messing up.” Soon you find yourself in an intense if quiet argument, and before you know it, both of you have missed lines, the play is in confusion, and the audience is staring at you rather than focusing on the unfolding story. What an embarrassment. The first two acts wonderfully performed, but as soon as you are given a part, you blow it. You are relieved when the focus shifts to the impending return of the Son, and the play gets back on track.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’re in the third act. The Holy Spirit is passing out roles. It’s our turn on center stage. The book of Ephesians, so far, has been about Act 1, the work of the creator, who blessed us since before the creation of the world with every spiritual blessing. It’s been about Act 2, the work of the Son, who when we were dead in our transgressions and sins, gave himself as a sacrifice so we might be forgiven of sin, saved by grace, and given new life.
Now, in Ephesians 4, it’s our turn. Not without God. It’s the Spirit who works in us, it’s the Son who strengthens, the Father who pours out his love. Nonetheless, the Son has called a people, a company of actors and actresses, we’ve been handed our scripts, it’s our turn to take the stage. Up to now we’ve only had to listen and applaud the great news of our calling, the wonder of his love. But now, in light of the uniqueness of that calling, we are expected to respond. Individually and as a community we can now step out to apply these things to all of life. The great calling of Ephesians 1-3 demands and enables a great response. Our lives can reflect the uniqueness of our incredible calling.
Ephesians 4:1, one of the great verses in this book: Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Every word in this verse is important. The first is ‘therefore’ This reminds us that everything which follows depends on all that Paul has already said, on the glorious uniqueness of what the true God has done through Jesus.
“A prisoner for the Lord.” Paul said in chapter 3 that he is a prisoner. He is probably in Rome. But he is the Lord’s prisoner, a prisoner ‘for the Lord’ or a prisoner ‘of the Lord.” He was a captive, but it was not so much the Romans who had bound him. It was the Lord himself, to whom Paul had given his whole life. It is from this place of integrity, himself a sold out follower, that Paul urges them, reminds them that this Gospel changes everything. And the word “urge” is strong. It means to beg, to plead, to ask for something with great intensity, with the fervor we’ve seen in Paul as he describes God’s great blessings and plan. That same intensity is now turned to an appeal for a changed life.
He says “I urge you to walk” this way. The word “you” is plural, it’s “y’all.” We’ve talked about the “y’all” Bible and how we in western culture take as individual commands what is really addressed to the community. “I urge y’all to walk,” “in a manner worthy of y’alls calling.” The word translated “walk” is about how you live your life. Some versions say “live your lives” in this manner. This metaphor sees life as a journey, and how you walk determines where you go and where you end up. We use the same metaphor; we say someone should ‘walk the walk’ not just ‘talk the talk.’ We mean that a person should live with integrity, live out what they believe, not be a hypocrite and just talk about it.
The word worthy is also key. It comes from a Greek word that has the idea of weight, or equal weight. Paul is saying that we should try to live lives equal to the great blessings described in chapters 1-3. We can’t do it, this side of eternity, but it can be our standard, our goal. We are, in essence, to rise to the challenge of what we are, like the man who said “Christ has done so much for me, the rest of my life is a P.S. to his great work!” I recently re-read Robert Heinlein’s classic sci-fi novel, Starship Troopers, which was an interesting book made into what I heard was a really bad movie. But it’s a military coming-of-age story and at one point the lieutenant who has shaped and led this platoon buys it, and the platoon sergeant is given a field commission. When he leads the platoon into the next battle he says “The Lieutenant told me before he bought it to tell you that he will always have his eye on you... and that he expects your names to shine!" That’s the call to walk worthy of your calling.
When you and I step onto the stage, in Act 3 of God’s drama, we have two choices. We can continue to act like the slovenly civilians we once were, or we can begin to act like children of God, soldiers who shine, mature daughters and sons. But we need to pay careful attention to the script, these chapters which show us how to walk: in church, personal life, family, and in a fallen world.
The first thing we need to look at is the character of those who walk worthy. It’s just one verse here, but we’ll come back to these qualities in all these chapters. Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.
These character qualities will grow in our lives as we seek to walk worthy, and they will make us Christ-like, followers who honor him. First, we are to be humble. Christian character is impossible without humility. The Greek word here was not a positive word, not used with approval. It was the attitude expected of a slave, an abject, servile, subservient attitude, fawning submissiveness. That’s the way it was viewed until the time of Christ. Then his followers recognized the virtue of true humility in him.
In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Paul teaches us in Philippians to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” He uses Jesus as the model: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” A believer’s character is to be like Christ’s: humble, not grabbing for fame or glory, but accepting low position, and a servant’s work.
I’ve talked many times in recent years about ‘usness’ in marriage. But the book from which this concept was taken is actually called ‘the essential humility of marriage.’ Marriage, and any meaningful relationship, is made doable when each person takes on the character of selflessness modeled and lived by Jesus.
The second character quality that transforms our walk with God is gentleness or meekness. Again, a characteristic of Christ. When he said: “I am gentle and humble in heart” he used both of these first two words. Gentleness is crucial. There have been many cases, in my own personal counseling, in working with people in the church where gentleness was the key missing ingredient. Maybe the most visual example is that this is the Greek word used to indicate taming or domesticating an animal. Horse trainers will still say that a horse has been gentled. The picture implies strength under control. Not weakness, peaceful strength. We are to be meek this way, to always choose the path of gentleness in our marriages, in our families, in our church, in our work and community.
The next one is patience. Again, this is a quality remarkably displayed by Jesus. Paul says of the years before his conversion that “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” One of the great examples of patience is the way Jesus put up with his disciples, who were irritating. They repeatedly made the same mistakes, showed the same disbelief, exhibited the same pride, even though he had taught and corrected them. And his modern day disciples, like you and me receive treatment. Jesus has been incredibly patient with me as I’ve stumbled through the Christian life, knowing what’s right but rarely doing it. But if he treats me that way, I am clearly called to be patient with others and with circumstances, steadfast in misfortune, slow to react negatively to people I disagree with, or who are simply irritating. We are called to show the same patience Jesus shows to us.
And finally, the last of these character words is bearing with one another. We would say ‘putting up with each other.’ This doesn’t sound noble, but I’m convinced that putting up with each other is a key quality for believers. Being gracious even when different people have different ways of doing things, different opinions, even different values. One commentator, Abbot, says “this involves putting up with one another’s weaknesses, not ceasing to love one’s neighbors or friends because of those faults in them which perhaps offend or displease us.” Stott says it is “that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace.” If Stott is right then without forbearance, no married couple, no family, no church can live together in peace. Forbearance is probably best illustrated by that simple story I often tell at weddings. I’ve before but it’s so key I’m going to repeat it.
It’s the one about the grandmother celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary who was asked to share the secret of her long, happy marriage. “On my wedding day,” she said “I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults, which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook.” A guest asked what some of the faults were. The woman replied, “To tell the truth, I never got around to making the list. But whenever something my husband did made me hopping mad, I’d say to myself ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!’”
These character qualities, displayed by Christ, are the character qualities we can display in Christ. They enable us to walk worthy. As Francis Foulkes says “Everything that now follows in the rest of the letter may be considered as an expansion of the appeal that has just been made.” We will find that all the particular instructions that follow are applications of ‘walk in a manner worthy of your calling’ and that each application requires humility, or gentleness, or patience, or forbearance, or always, love.
The first application is a call to unity in the body, Verses 3-6: eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all and in all.
Be eager. Spare no effort. Just as Paul credited our redemption and growth to the work of God, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, so now, without missing a beat, without feeling contradiction, he calls us to industry in pursuing growth. It’s the same in Philippians where he says “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” So we are to strive, even as God works in us.
What is the first thing we are to strive for? Unity. Maintain the unity of the Spirit. This is a unity God has already achieved, the unity created by the Holy Spirit, and we are to maintain or keep it. It is the bond of peace, a direct reference back to chapter 2, where Paul said that Jesus himself is our peace, because he has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us and God, between us and others. But Paul is smart and knows that the tendency of people is not to leave walls down, but to build them.
In New England the soil is full of rocks, and for hundreds of years as freeze and thaw have brought the rocks to the surface, farmers have gathered them to the edges of the fields and built walls. If you hike there, even in areas totally treed, you see the evidence of farming by these old walls that wander through the woods. It’s the same in the Christian life. Rocks come up, difficulties. And our tendency is to use them to build walls, walls between people, walls within the local church, between churches. Walls that fragment and divide.
Steve Green sang a song several years ago that captured these thoughts, and he ends with a strong appeal to the Christian character we saw in verse 2: “O Children of God, O soon to be bride. Let us humble ourselves, and crucify pride. Throw off the flesh, and its pious facade. And unite in the name of God.”
It turns out that verse 2, Christ-like character, is the key to unity between individuals, in the church, and between church bodies. Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, these are the soil in which the Spirit can develop unity. John Stott, for example, says “Humility is essential to unity. Pride lurks behind all discord, and the greatest secret of concord is humility.” Humility reduces or eliminates friction that leads to dispute that leads to disunity. In the same way a gentle person won’t exaggerate or lash out in the midst of disagreement, but will give others the benefit of the doubt. A patient person will give others time to mature, consider, and respond. And a forebearing person will allow others to have different ideas, habits opinions and choices without building walls to isolate themselves from those they might differ with.
To the extent that we are living in verse 2, there will be unity, and to the extent that we are not we need to repent of it, ask God and others for forgiveness, and turn toward these attitudes. But it is also a supernatural work. This is ‘the unity of the Spirit’ and the implication is that all of us as believers have the Holy Spirit living within us. Paul taught this in the first three chapters. And when each of us is conformed by the one Spirit to the image of the Son, we will be one with each other. That was the whole thing in chapter 2 about the dividing wall that Jesus has broken down by his sacrifice, that leads to an underlying unity of Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor and every other prejudice and judgment of people, ancient and modern.
But Paul, in his typical fashion, isn’t content to just give ethical commands. He wants to tie our unity to the uniqueness of our calling. The word ‘one’ in verses 4 to 6 is there not only to indicate a single thing, but a unique thing, something that sets the church and her people apart from the world and into community with each other. We are united not by anything we conjure up, but by our common relationship with the One True God who has called us into community and blessed us. As we move toward closing and communion, that’s the point to keep in mind - not the things that divide, but the blessings we share.
What are the blessings we share in verses four, five and six? Well, notice that three of the eight items mentioned refer to the three persons of the Trinity. One Spirit, in verse 4, One Lord, in verse 5, one God and Father in verse 6. The other five items mentioned outline some of the key blessings that we receive through them.
First, there is one body because there is one Spirit. The one body is the church, all believers, and its unity or cohesion is due to the Holy Spirit who indwells it. Paul writes elsewhere “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
Second, there is one hope associated with our calling, one faith and one baptism, because there is one Lord. The Lord Jesus is the one object of the faith, hope and baptism of all Christian people. Jesus who died on the cross is the one in whom we have believed and trusted. Jesus who rose from the dead is the one in whom we have been baptized, and Jesus who is coming again is the one in whom we have hope. When we celebrate communion we celebrate his death, and we affirm our faith in the one whose blood was shed, whose body was broken for all of us. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” One Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism.
But notice also that this is the hope of your calling. We were urged earlier to live in a manner worthy of our calling and now we are told that were “called to the one hope” of our calling. As Peter says in Acts, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” Jesus is uniquely the Savior of the world. Jesus is uniquely the hope of the world, and because we are called to relationship with him, we are called to hope. Peter says “Through him, [Jesus], you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
Third, there is one God and Father, who is above all, and through all and in all. By this Paul means in all believers, all who put their faith in Christ, for it is only in our redemption through Jesus and by the ministry of the Spirit that we have free, unashamed access to the Father, to his glorious presence even though he is infinite and transcendent, above all and through all.
Notice that if we repeat the three affirmations the other way around, they are in the order that we use of the Trinity. First, there is one Father who creates one family. Second, there is one Lord, Jesus, who creates one faith, one hope, and one baptism, and third, there is one Spirit who creates the one body, the church. It’s to these truths we cling. If we understand these unique blessings of God, we will have a solid basis for unity. A shared hope, shared faith shared family, a shared body, a shared Lord, Father, and Spirit.
Let’s go back for a minute to that stage that we walked out onto at the beginning of the message. The Father has done his part in blessing us. He has created us and loves us. The Son has done his part in redeeming us. His body broken, his blood shed. The Spirit has done his part, calling us, sealing us, indwelling us, strengthening us.
Now it’s our turn. We stand on the stage. We are instructed to walk the walk, to let our lives reflect the uniqueness of our calling. But we get to be method actors. We purse the character of Jesus so that we can live out his life on the stage in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance.
Act 3, scene 1, the scene where we appear, is about unity. Will we stay in character, the character of Jesus? Or will we fall to bickering about who got the best part, who was supposed to provide the props, why the lighting isn’t just the way we want it, and how the roles should be played? Will we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Will we rejoice over the shared truth of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one father? Will we walk worthy of this great blessing? My prayer is that each of you will be nominated for a Tony award. The curtain is rising. You’re on. Break a leg.